"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
This tremendous admonition and promise is for parents, prospective parents, grandparents, relatives, and anyone else who has a heart for children! It is absolutely reliable, since "all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Cor. 1:20). The true and living God, who cannot lie, will keep this promise; our responsibility lies in the first word, train. But before we get to that, we must consider the way.
Some interpreters understand this to mean "his way," that is, the child's way. They say that parents and teachers must learn the natural inclinations of the child and direct him thus. To prove that this is the wrong explanation, we need only consider Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Since the verse says, "All we," that must include children. Every child has already turned "to his own way;" he does not need to be trained in it. Worst of all, the Lord describes "turning to our own way" as "the iniquity of us all," and reveals the outrage of that iniquity by telling us that it was what Christ bore on the cross. Clearly, then, we do not need to train up a child in his own way, which in God's sight is sin.
Charles Bridges said that when a child is born, two ways lie before it: the way in which he WOULD go, and the way in which he SHOULD go. That says it succinctly!
Psalm 58:3 teaches us that the child begins going his own way, which is iniquity, immediately after birth. "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies."
How often does the Scripture teach that we are born sinners! All the more reason for training the child in the way that he should go. The way is God's way.
A parallel verse, Gen. 18:19, also shows this. "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." God knew that Abraham's children would keep, not their own way, nor some counselor's way, nor the world's way, but the way of the Lord.
WILL THE CHILDREN BE PERFECT?
The significance of this phrase will be seen when we consider the fact that many people do not believe Proverbs 22:6, because they have seen some child who was brought up in a Christian home turn out to be less than perfect. We seem to think that Prov. 22:6 is a promise of sinless perfection, so that if a child does anything wrong, either the verse is not true, or the child's training was not scriptural. That mistake will be recognized and forsaken when we realize that "the way he should go" is the Lord's way, but it does not mean sinless perfection. How can we be sure? By remembering that God said that Abraham's children would keep His way; then by reading about the lives and doings of Isaac and Ishmael. They certainly were not perfect!
Thus by comparing Scripture with Scripture, we have learned, so far, that "the way he should go" is not his own way (Isaiah 53:6), but the Lord's way (Gen. 18:19), and that keeping God's way does not mean sinless perfection. What, then, does "keeping the Lord's way" mean? It describes the worship of the true and living God. Both Isaac and Ishmael did some things wrong (see Gen. 16:12 & 26:7), but they never went after a false god.
Another good example is David. Even though Scripture records several of his sins (see 1 Sam. 27:8-12 for example), God describes his whole life in 1 Kings 15:5 by saying, "David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." Since "all scripture is inspired of God," (2 Tim. 3:16) this must be a true description. There will be no problem if we remember that when God speaks of someone who has kept His way, or who has done right in His eyes, He is speaking of the worship of the true God as opposed to idols.
David never turned aside from worshiping God and His commands regarding such.
To prove that "keeping God's way" means worshiping Him as opposed to worshiping idols, we need only consider the description of Amon, in 2 Kings 21:21-22. "And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshiped them: And he forsook the LORD God of his fathers, and walked not in the way of the LORD," Clearly, "walking not in the way of the Lord" was equal to "serving idols."
For an opposite example, let's consider 2 Kings 22:2, describing Josiah; "And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or the left."
CHILD TRAINING OFTEN NOT 100% SUCCESSFUL
Another mistake which is often made regarding the promise in Prov. 22:6 is thinking that someone is either 100% successful, regarding the training of his children, or 100% a failure. We have already seen that God does not look at it that way, when we considered Isaac, Ishmael, and David.
A little common sense and observation will teach us that parents may succeed in training their children to believe the right doctrine, but fail in teaching them to pray every day. Likewise, some parents succeed in training their children to be faithful to church, but they fail to teach them to be soul winners. There are degrees of success and failure. Real life shows us that there are faithful church members, even church leaders, who are not holy. And, some are more holy than others. These are good examples of the fact that there are degrees of success and failure.
Parents are responsible to train their children in all that is included in "the way of the Lord." That one way would include many ways. We often forget that, assuming that one or two things are all that important.
We must not only train them to be saved, but also to be spiritual. Training is necessary if they are to know the Bible, if they are to get answers to their prayers, if they are to be soul winners.
If parents fail to train their children in some particular way, they will be letting the world do the training. If we fail to teach our children to live holy lives, we will be letting Hollywood train them to be unholy.
There is no way to prevent their exposure to Hollywood. Even if there is no television, no movie-going, no rock music, children will learn about those things by simply being in this world. The influence of Hollywood is pervasive; no part of life escapes it. How much more, therefore should godly parents train their children in matters of holiness, to offset the evil influence which they will naturally receive.
If we fail to teach them the misery of drinking wine, Hollywood will convince them that wine is a necessary part of a tasty meal, especially if it is to be romantic. Unless we teach them biblical morality, Hollywood will convince them that adultery and various other forms of immorality are the normal way of life
Even though we cannot prevent their exposure to these evils, we can certainly counteract them with the power of scripture! And that is where the word train comes in.
TRAINING OR LECTURING?
Why did the Lord say, "Train?" Why not, "Lecture?" In all sports, there is a trainer. It is not training when the athletic director lectures the players that they should go out and become stars. It is training when the person who already knows what to do shows others how to do it; then, when the player does something wrong, the trainer corrects him and shows him how to do it properly. In most cases, the player must practice the particular play several times before he becomes proficient at it. In other words, it is a process of teaching, showing, correcting, practicing, and repetition. Usually, there is a lot of trial and error.
There probably has never been an athlete who did everything perfectly; all make mistakes. The trainer does not give up after one or two mistakes. The player is not kicked off the team for one or two mistakes. The trainer is not considered a failure when a player makes a mistake. We should think of these things when we consider the Lord's admonition that we should "train up a child in the way he should go."
WHEN SHOULD CHILD TRAINING BEGIN?
When should we begin? Hannah gives us a good example, in 1 Sam. 1:24, "And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young." Some commentators say that the Jews, at that time, did not wean their children until the age of two or three years. That may seem like a long time to us, with our modern ways, but it might have been, especially when we consider that milk would not have been as available to them as it is to us. Even if that explanation is accurate, Samuel was still very young to be surrendered by his mother to live in the house of the Lord!
Samuel was born into the priestly line; but according to Scripture, the priest did not assume priestly duties until the age of thirty. If Hannah had been like many mothers, she would have forgotten all about religious training until just before Samuel turned thirty! To the contrary, she began early; she "lent him to the Lord" at the age of two or three, to begin learning the ways of serving God as His priest. Waiting until thirty could be too late; Samuel could have been set in the ways of wickedness and have no interest in the things of God. Hannah was wise; let us imitate her godly example.
We must not consider working in the nursery and other children's classes to be a glorified baby-sitting job; it is a scriptural opportunity to train the little ones in the ways of Christ. We must not consider mothers who give their lives to the training of their young children to be unintelligent, or incapable of having a "career" in this world, as so many think today. Training young children is scriptural, challenging, and extremely wise! It does require much thinking, praying, and preparation; perhaps that is why so many look for ways to avoid it. But there is no greater challenge than that of teaching biblical truth to little ones. If a person cannot put the truth of the gospel on the level of a child, that person does not understand the gospel very well.
Every Christian parent would like for his/her child to turn out like Samuel; if that occurs, we must do as Hannah did and begin early.
HOW OLD IS OLD?
If we begin early, we must repeat the training, according to Prov. 22:6, until the child is old. But when is one old, in biblical language? In many cases today, people think that, after children become teenagers, you cannot do anything with them. Yet, ask a twenty-one year old man if he considers himself to be old and see what he says. Ask a thirty-year-old woman if she is old! Both common sense and Scripture teach us that old does not mean the teenage years.
Genesis 42 and 43 give us examples of Jacob's commanding his sons to go to Egypt to get food. Egypt was several hundred miles away and that trip would have to be made by walking, or riding some animal, or in some uncomfortable wagon. Every one of those sons was married and had children, yet Jacob did not hesitate to command them to make such an arduous journey; and, as far as the scriptural record is concerned, there was no resistance on the part of any son to that command. Jacob did not believe, as many do today, that you cannot do anything with them when they get grown. Of course, people today object to this reasoning by saying that these events occurred in another time when customs were different. While we admit that this is true, we should remind ourselves that God gave us details such as these in His Word for "doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness," (2 Tim. 3:16). We will not find a better example than those given in the Bible.
Hannah continued her concern for Samuel. 1 Sam. 2:19 says that she brought him a coat from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
Another proof of the fact that God holds parents responsible to keep training their children, even after they are grown, is found in 1 Sam. 2 & 3. In 2:22, we learn of the sin of Eli's sons: "Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." It is obvious that these sons were grown men. We learn later that they were married. God tells us, in 3:13, that Eli was both responsible and negligent regarding the actions of his sons:
"For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not."
Eli's responsibility was so great, in the eyes of God, that He pronounced judgment on his house because Eli made no effort to restrain them. We must carefully note that it was not Eli's fault that they sinned, but rather that he restrained them not. Did he say, as so many do today, that nothing could be done with them after they were grown? God showed him to be wrong!
ALL CHILDREN HAVE SOME REBELLION
The fact is that all young people rebel against righteousness; some to a greater degree, some not so much. Solomon is a good example; he was taught by his father and mother, according to Proverbs 4:1-5 and chapter 31, but he rebelled in many ways. When he repented, he wrote Ecclesiastes to record his confession and repentance. He was speaking from experience, when he wrote the words of Eccl. 11:9-10, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity."
He knew that young people like to be happy ("let thy heart cheer thee"), that they like to do whatever they desire ("walk in the ways of thine heart"), and that they like to do what they see immediately, not caring about the unseen future ("and in the sight of thine eyes").
Because this is true of all young people, they will do wrong. The desire of their heart is sin, according to Jer. 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."
This describes the heart of every single person who has ever been born, except Christ. The testimony of Psa. 33:15 is that "He fashioneth their hearts alike." We are all alike, in the evil of our hearts. That evil does not always express itself in the same way, but the basic evil is there. All young people sin, no matter how good their training.
When the young man walks "in the ways of his heart and in the sight of (his) eyes," he is sinning, because the verse ends by saying, "for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." Every young person rebels! Some do it outwardly and brazenly; others keep it inside. When the rebellion shows itself, many parents think they are failures, or that the Bible verse is not true, or is not for our dispensation, or that scriptural training did no good, or some other such depressing reaction. To the contrary, when we see the rebellion, or learn later that it existed in the heart, we should realize that this simply proves the Bible!
Another proof of this is found in Heb. 12:2, where Christ is called "the author and finisher of our faith." Most of us realize that we cannot be the author of someone's faith; we cannot make people believe. We give the Word, but God does the work which results in believing (see John 6:29). We also need to realize that we can no more be the finisher than we could be the author! Our witness and our training are necessary, but we do not finish anyone's faith. That is the work of Christ, and He continues to work all through that believer's life to accomplish it.
Solomon was trained right, but rebelled in his youth. Then, when he was old, he did exactly what Prov. 22:6 promises: he did not depart from the training of his early days.
Another example is Manasseh, the son of godly king Hezekiah. Hezekiah was certainly not perfect, but he was a praying man (read Isa. 37 & 38), and a humble man (2 Chron. 32:26). Most of us would like to get answers to our prayers in the spectacular way that he did! He must have trained Manasseh correctly, besides giving him some good examples to follow, because we read that even though Manasseh committed some awful sins when he was young (2 Chron. 33:1-10), he did repent when he was old. Verses 11-19 give us these thrilling words:
"And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God...and he took away the strange gods...and he repaired the altar of the LORD...His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him...behold, they are written among the saying of the seers."
In the light of all these scriptures, let us realize that the heart of every young person has the seed of rebellion in it. The training which is spoken of in Prov. 22:6 is required repeatedly, until he is old. It is when he is old that he will not depart from it; and "old" does not mean sixteen, or twenty-five.
THE TRAINING MUST BE WITH SCRIPTURE
This training must not only be repetitious, but it must be with Scripture. Lois and Eunice, Timothy's grandmother and mother, are good examples. 2 Tim. 3:15 says, of Timothy,
"From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
We should teach children the doctrines of Scripture, helping them to memorize key verses where these doctrines are found, as well as verses which promise victory and encourage faith. Children can memorize easily, much more so than adults; therefore, let us teach them to memorize the Bible in their early years.
John Newton was converted as an adult, after many years of sin, directly because of the Scripture which his mother had taught him to memorize before he was seven years old!
Some parents try this briefly, then stop because they do not see immediate results. Again, Scripture will correct this error. Lois and Eunice taught Timothy, but he was not saved until he was a teenager, and that was through the preaching of Paul (see 1 Tim. 1:2 and 1 Cor. 4:15). God's word always has its promised results, although they may not come immediately, or in the way that we anticipated. Are we willing for someone else to win our children to Christ, to reap where we have sowed? Sometimes that is God's way (John 4:37-38), and we certainly cannot improve on it.
Faithfulness to obey the Lord always brings the fulfillment of His promise in His time and His way. It takes parents and preachers and teachers and witnesses. Paul had no children, but he reached the children of others.
Taking the children to church is not enough. It is vital, but it is not all that God requires. We must teach them the Scripture, a responsibility which is found not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old.
Psalm 78 gives us good instruction:
(1) We should teach our children what our parents taught us. Verse 3, "...Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us."
(2) In teaching children Bible stories, we should emphasize the power of God. Verse 4, "We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done." When we tell about David and Goliath, for example, let us not only mention David's courage, but the power of God in giving that great victory. How often is the credit given to David, or to luck! Likewise, Samson's great strength was not due to his long hair, but to his obedience to God and God's resulting power.
(3) We should tell the children that one of the purposes for which God gave the Bible is that we might teach it to the little ones. Verse 5, "For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children." God wants the little ones to know that the Bible is for them.
(4) They should learn it so that they can teach it to their children. Verse 6, "That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children."
(5) We should teach the children to set their hope in God and not repeat the sins of their ancestors. Verses 7-8, "That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation."
Thus we are to teach children the Scriptures and the reasons for learning them.
BEWARE OF HYPOCRISY IN CHILD TRAINING
In doing all this, the proper attitude is vital. Children can see through the hypocrisy of adults easily. They learn to know what we are like before they can even understand our words; they read our facial expressions, they notice our actions, they see our priorities. They learn to discern people before they learn language! When they learn to speak, then to read and write, they do not lose that ability. They still notice the tone of voice and the facial expressions of others; it is a result of several years experience. Even when they are teenagers, they can spot a hypocritical adult almost immediately. Anyone who has worked with them knows this well.
Therefore, we must have the proper attitude. Christ emphasized this in His stinging condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes:
"Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." (Mark 7:6). What was the end result of such hypocrisy? Vs. 13, "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition," (which was an outgrowth of their evil hearts). If we are not genuine in our obedience to the Lord, our teaching of the children, taking them to church, etc., such hypocrisy will nullify Scripture.
If we teach our children to pray, they must see us praying. If we teach them that the Bible is God's Word, they must see us reading it and loving it. If we insist that they go to church, we must go with them and always speak constructively about the house of the Lord before them. If we teach them about hell and heaven, they must be urged to repent and believe on Christ for the salvation of their souls. If we see them misbehave in church, we must be sure that our correction is from a motive of wanting them to do right, rather than from being embarrassed before others. If they hear us praise the Lord in church, they ought to hear us praise the Lord in the business world, and in the hospital, and at the cemetery.
Titus 2:7,8 emphasizes this very responsibility, by saying, "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works ... sincerity ... sound speech that cannot be condemned." Who would receive even the choicest food from a leprous hand? The condition of the one who gives the word is important. The prodigal son assumed that his father would receive him; had he seen that attitude before? No doubt the father had shown forgiveness many times in that young man's life, perhaps toward him, perhaps toward others, so much so that he did not even entertain the possibility that he would be rejected. That speaks volumes for the father's example!
Almost everything we learn is from an example. How long would it take for a child to learn to tie shoe laces, if he only heard a lecture on it?
Children learn to pray from hearing others pray. Parents ought to take their children with them when they try to win lost souls. They will learn to witness and win people to Christ by seeing it done. They will learn daily Bible reading by being a part of that as they grow up. They will learn to pay attention and get something from a sermon if they see parents doing it, then hear them discussing the message later. They learn tithing when they see the years of blessing on their parents who have thus obeyed the Lord.
PRAYER IS CRUCIAL IN CHILD TRAINING
All of these suggestions and directions will be energized by prayer. Without prayer, they will probably have little effect. A good example is Manoah, the father of Samson, in Judges 13:12. After the angel had revealed to his wife that they would have a son who would be the deliverer of Israel, he prayed for directions in training that child. "And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?" We note that the angel did not merely say, "Use the Bible," but gave him specific directions to be followed. The vow of a Nazarite was not for everyone, although it was a part of Scripture.
We must pray about each child. There are Scriptures which all should obey: there are others for specific ones. We may not know what the future holds for each of our children, but the Lord does. If we seek Him, He will direct us to those portions which are needed by each one. God knows whom He will call to preach, or to teach, or to be a deacon; He knows who will be a father or mother; He has plans for some to be leaders and some to be followers. Beside that, each child is an individual, not only in his personality, but in his particular needs and problems and temptations to sin. Why are some people slaves to alcohol, while others may drink "moderately" and never get drunk? Why are some slaves to gambling, while others may take it or leave it? We do not have the answers, but we know that God has perfect knowledge of each child and can direct the praying parent and teacher to the specific verses which would meet that child's need.
How many mothers have known that a newborn boy would be a preacher? We have heard such testimony. Is it not likely that she would have taught that boy all along, with that in mind? What if the Lord revealed that a boy or girl would be a missionary. Would not those parents do their utmost to keep that child from having any racial prejudice?
Sunday school teachers should also pray for the children, individually. It is also helpful to visit in the homes, trying to know them a little better, so that specific teaching may be given. We know very little about people when we see them only in church. Our prayers are limited. This is a good lesson for preachers, also!
WHAT TO DO WHEN DISCOURAGED, OR WHEN WE FAIL?
After all this, a parent or teacher may be overwhelmed. This may seem like an impossible task. Also, one may be conscious of failure and be quite depressed. Sometimes, we think we are doing very well, then, without warning, everything caves in, sin is committed, and we think that we completely failed. But, we must remember that we will all fail, to some extent. What then shall we do?
The Holy Spirit inspired the book of Ecclesiastes to show us exactly what to do in such a situation. If there was ever a failure, it was Solomon! He rebelled against all his training and even disobeyed divine revelation, but one thing can be said in his favor: he did confess that failure and repent of it, then he showed it by exhorting others not to follow his example.
In Eccl. 7:26-28, he confessed that he had disobeyed God by marrying seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (see Deut. 17:17). He confessed that he was a sinner when he was taken in by them. His sinful attitude made him look for the wrong kind in the first place, and he found them. Then, in 9:9, he corrected that, exhorting others to "live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee ..." We note that he did not say "the wives," but "the wife." And he emphasized that it should be the wife "whom he hath given thee." Here, then, was a preacher who went wrong, but has repented; now he is instructing his children not to follow his example, but to do right in God's eyes. He has explained to them the misery and heartache of sin. He has not tried to cover up, or make excuse. Such is true confession and repentance.
More evidence is found in 12:9-14. Instead of brooding about his backslidings and failures, he not only confessed and repented, but made a sincere effort to warn others. "And moreover, because the preacher was wise [remember that God had given him this wisdom, and that God's gifts are without repentance, Rom. 11:29], he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs." This required a lot of work. Are we willing to work that hard in teaching our children?
He tried to get just the verses that each child needed (vs. 10, "The preacher sought to find out acceptable words."). He taught them that God's word will motivate us (vs. 11, "The words of the wise are as goads"), so that they would seek the Scripture when they are discouraged, or backslidden. He emphasized that the Bible would give them stability ("and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies"). He stressed that the Bible, even though written by many men, actually all came from the one true God ("which are given from one shepherd").
The Lord, who is our shepherd, has given us His words, which will do everything for us that we need. How necessary it is that the child learn who the Author of the Bible is: He is the Good Shepherd, who gave His life for the sheep. A shepherd never leaves his sheep; children need to learn that if they know the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, they will never be alone!
People drink alcohol because they are lonely; they take drugs for the same reason. Likewise, some people sell their bodies, while others commit suicide, all because they are lonely. Knowing Christ, the Good Shepherd, would prevent all that. He said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Heb. 13:5-6)
May the Lord help us to believe Prov. 22:6 and obey it, sincerely expecting the promised results.
She could not give her children gold
So she gave them faith to have and hold.
She could not give them royal birth
A name renowned throughout the earth.
But she gave them seeds and garden spot
And shade trees when the sun was hot.
She could not give a silver spoon
Or servants waiting night and noon.
She gave them love and a listening ear.
And told them God was always near.
She could not give them ocean trips
Aboard majestic sailing ships.
But she gave them books and quiet time,
Adventures found in prose and rhyme.
She could not give them worldly things
But what she gave was fit for kings.
For with her faith and books and sod
She made each child aware of God.
Republished October 13, 2004 (first published April 1990) by David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061. From a sermon preached by Bruce Lackey in the early 1970s.
Doctrinal & Practical Writings